While musical genres in the 21st century continue to evolve, in some cases becoming barely recognisable to their younger iterations, one style that has remained somewhat unchanged is that of pop-punk. ‘hope you’re happy.’, the debut album from California’s Modern Maps, is the latest release from Rise Records and yet another example of an artist following this established pop-punk formula.
Emo and pop-punk is undergoing a critical highpoint, with artists such as Modern Baseball, The Hotelier and The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die all receiving large critical acclaim – there is perhaps no better time to release an album in this style. Yet while these bands often deal with existential malaise, racial inequality or the minutiae of the breakdown of relationships, ‘hope you’re happy.’ rarely aims for the same level of specificity. Instead the topic throughout the album is that of an aggravated lover, unsure of his place in the world. Vague enough to provide mass appeal, in many ways the themes Modern Maps deal with are commonplace: world’s burn hearts are torn apart people are dragged through hell, and people risk drowning in whisky. These topics are handled with the dramatic intensity we have come to expect from many pop-punk groups.
Yet, while lyrically ‘hope you’re happy.’ is not exactly innovative, Modern Maps’ obvious interest in the pop side of pop-punk provides the album with its most interesting moments. Synthesizers are used on nearly every track to expand on the three piece’s sound, which helps to add an extra dimension to an otherwise conventional album. This addition allows the band to experiment with near-disco rhythms, at times reminiscent of the pop elements of groups like Boys Like Girls, fused with the melodrama of 30 Seconds To Mars. These synth elements contribute to many of the album’s most interesting moments, such as the steady synth melody in ‘Heatwave’, and set the band apart from many other contemporary pop-punk artists.
However, while these melodic and instrumental elements provide some interesting musical moments, in large part to the tonal juxtaposition of the gravity of the lyrics, the formula grows somewhat tiresome at the album’s midpoint. Fortunately the group reduce their sound on the seventh track, ‘One More Night’, an acoustic ballad and one of the album’s best songs. Following ‘One More Night’ the album picks up again with four solid tracks which contribute to the album’s highpoint. These final songs are the album’s best, again making use of synthesizers, guitar hooks and memorable pop melodies. Whereas the first half of ‘hope you’re happy.’ relies heavily on individual moments to keep the listener engaged, Modern Maps tone down the melodrama and increase the pop elements in the second half much to these song’s benefits. This ultimately makes songs such as ‘Your Fault’ and ‘Bite My Lip’, undoubtedly the album’s best songs: more relatable and most importantly, more memorable.
At its best this is an album that follows an established path thematically, deviating just enough to keep the listener engaged while not being too musically challenging as to put off fans of this music. Modern Maps will certainly be able to find a solid fan base with this particular brand of pop-punk, however without much variation in the songs’ formulae ‘hope you’re happy.’ is ultimately not strong enough to leave a lasting impression.